E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

March 21, 2012

Why Social Business Keeps Failing to Deliver

Tenerife - Roques de Garcia in the WinterIf you have been reading the last few articles I have posted over here in this blog, over the course of the last few months, you may have noticed how, as of late, I have become a whole lot more critical (Hopefully, in a constructive manner) around the whole subject of Social Business and Enterprise 2.0, in general, and, although I’m still a strong believer in the whole movement (I even think we cannot longer go back and do something else. It’s changed us for good!), I am starting to question the validity and merit of a good number of motives from companies to become successful social businesses, because in reality they aren’t. They are just grabbing the wrong end of the stick thinking and hoping it will work out eventually, when we all know it won’t, and get away with it.

Well, it’s now time to up the game again and here’s another one of those thinking out loud reflections that’s been in my mind for a long while regarding Social Business and which I’m now more and more convinced it may be destroying our current business environment as we know it, more than anything else. Specially, in today’s financial conundrum. Here it goes: What if Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business are one of the main culprits why it’s taking us all so long to recover from this financial crisis? What if E2.0 and Social Business are the main reasons why we may no longer get the economy to recover as we could, or would, or should, have expected? What if we are all doomed and we are facing The End of a Job as We Know It?

The first time that I read about that particular idea of how pernicious Enterprise 2.0 may well be to the corporate world was on a Twitter exchange with Eric Norlin, organiser of the always inspiring, thought-provoking and wonderful Defrag conference event, in Denver, Colorado, where he was mentioning how more and more he was convinced that Social Business, Enterprise 2.0 or whatever other 2.0 moniker, was killing the job market and current working conditions, because businesses were adopting this shift for the wrong reasons. A few months later, I am starting to become pretty much convinced myself that he was, perhaps still is!, on to something!

If you look into the current business world out there you would see how one of the main reasons why corporations are adopting and embracing this social networking for business movement has always been cutting costs, i.e. optimizing the business with the right resources (apart from generating new business, that is!). That’s basically us, knowledge workers, still being treated as resources, instead of people, and acting accordingly when embracing all of these social technologies. HR still hasn’t made that transition from Human Resources into Human Relationships, at least, for the vast majority of businesses out there and this means that if Social Business can help them get their business optimise their resources they would be doing so, ignoring the people, and their needs, once again, and like it’s been happening for decades…

Just think of it, how many times have we seen plenty of use cases on how beneficial social networking is in helping find the right experts within organisations, or find the right information at the right time, socialising business processes accelerating speed of response, improving customer satisfaction or just simply empowering knowledge workers to become much more effective and productive while getting work done? Far too many times, don’t you think? Well, right there it is when optimizing the business kicks in, because instead of thriving to become more sustainable businesses where people are treated like people, in a much more trustworthy, responsible and valued perspective altogether, we keep seeing how the business decides to go the other direction and optimises resources, i.e. continues further along with layoffs or resource actions, or doesn’t hire enough talent just to get by, since the current knowledge workforce keeps on being squeezed out all the way. Have you ever thought about when was it the last time that you worked 40 hours per week, or, basically, the number of hours you were hired for in the first place? Another example, when was it the last time that you were working only on a single project, with a single team, budget, mission scope, goals, etc. etc. Just think of it. Probably not in the last decade or so, if not longer!

Shouldn’t we all be focusing on the long term strategy to become socially integrated enterprises where sustainable business growth becomes a norm, more than an exception? Shouldn’t we just leave behind that 20th century corporate mentality of just thinking on quarter after quarter, or on whether large corporations are pleasing Wall Street, or not (Don’t forget just how much Wall Street appreciates each and everyone of you! … Not!), and start thinking that if we don’t pay attention to such fundamental shift that social business is provoking in a proper manner we may eventually be sinking to never recover?

I mean, just think of it, what smart, brilliant, young talented workforce would want to work for your business in, say, 5 to 10 years, when they find out knowledge workers are still being treated as resources, versus relations, i.e. people? When they find out making profits at all costs for the benefit of just a few is trumping those personal business relationships to rather alarming levels? When they figure out those older generations keep being optimised big time and they don’t have anyone out there, or hardly anyone, willing to transfer and pass on their knowledge, because they may not even be there in the first place? Aren’t we making it far too complicated, and, perhaps almost impossible, for future generations of the workplace to make a difference and have a significant impact? Let’s not forget how, as things stand out, right now, we are going to face a rather interesting business problem very very soon when the active working population will be outnumbered, big time!, by those people who are no longer working, i.e. retired, of those who are perhaps a bit too young to enter the workplace just yet…

I am not sure what you would think, but I sense we are entering that stage of the point of no return, where Social Business in its purest form would need to come forward, make a stand, and show, and demonstrate, businesses, what a meaningful, purposeful, and successful social business that looks after both their customer base, as well as their employee workforce, is all about. Because somehow using Social Business, just like we did with Knowledge Management back in the day, to optimise resources to drive business revenue by cutting costs alone in the short term somehow sounds like shooting ourselves on the foot, to never recover from the injury… Do we really want to head that way, say, in the next 5 to 10 years? Probably not, so perhaps we should put a stop to it now, while we can and before it is too late. Last thing we would want to do is to keep making the very same mistakes over and over again. Haven’t we learned anything from the past experiences that have brought us to the current financial apocalypse we have been experiencing in the last few years?

Can a business nowadays, in the 21st century, become a truly connected, transparent, nimble, successful and sustainable social business while optimising operations with layoffs is still lingering around in the background? I don’t think so. What do you think? Maybe, we need to rethink the current state of the business world, not just for the right now, but for the long term, and figure out whether social business can help us revert back and head into the right direction, because something tells me we do have the potential, the energy, the good effort, the excitement, the talent to making it happen, but what’s stopping us from realising it? Reluctance to change? To think and act in a completely different way than what we have been doing for ages? To perhaps come to terms with the fact that there is a better way of doing sustainable business and we may be too afraid of jumping the shark and live it?

Well, maybe it is time to do so. Maybe we should. Before it’s just too late and can’t react in time any longer. There is just far too much at stake at this point, methinks, and not just for ourselves, but for those future generations of knowledge workers. What kind of legacy are we planning on handing over to them when we are all gone? How would you like to be remembered? As the one who planted the seeds to collect a wonderful harvest at a later time (by them), or as the one who just wanted to focus on the quarter by quarter survival without caring much about what will be happening next. Please do tell me you are made of the former kind rather than of the latter. Please. We need you. And very much so. Now.

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